'Fighting an invisible foe': MSU men's hoops postpones third straight game

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Michigan State’s battle with COVID-19 continues.

With both scheduled games last week postponed because of positive tests from three players, Michigan State announced Monday that three more members of the program — walk-on guard Davis Smith, grad manager Lourawls "Tum Tum" Nairn Jr, and strengh and conditioning coach Marshall Repp — tested positive for the coronavirus Sunday, leading to the postponement of next Saturday’s scheduled home game against Illinois.

Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo.

“I talked to (Illinois coach) Brad Underwood today,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “Him and I spoke, and following the advice of our medical personnel and theirs, and for the safety of our student-athletes, we will be postponing the game on Saturday, too, because we've had three more positives.”

The announcement comes after games last week against Iowa and Indiana were called off following the positive tests of freshman Mady Sissoko, sophomore Steven Izzo and senior Josh Langford.

The Spartans had gone three days without a positive test after Langford’s on Wednesday and hoped to hold some sort of practice Monday. Instead, the latest results leave Izzo working either in small groups or individually with players while they wait for clearance to return to a full team practice.

“If you would have seen the disappointment in my players' eyes this morning when I told them we had to postpone another game," Izzo said. "It was a struggle. And, you know, as I look at it, if I'm losing sleep over it, just think what some of those guys are doing, because there is a true love to play the game."

Michigan State has been dealing with positive cases for quite some time. While the Spartans had remained clear of any cases from the start of the season until Sissoko’s positive result on Jan. 11, they’ve now had six cases in the past week. And Izzo confirmed on Monday that eight other players had tested positive from the time the players returned to workouts in the late summer to before the season began in November, meaning 12 of the 15 players on the roster have tested positive at some point.

More: Michigan State might have to jump through hoops to get games played

Izzo has also contracted the virus, returning to the team just days before the season began on Nov. 25.

“I'm proud of them for how they've handled it,” said Izzo, who spent Sunday night delivering food to the four players currently in isolation. “Is it difficult? Yeah. I've gotten through some difficult things here over the years, and this this ranks right up there with one of the most difficult because it's unknown. I’m fighting an invisible foe. I’m not trying to be dramatic, it just makes it a little harder.”

While Izzo is the only coach to have tested positive — he’s currently the only coach running workouts, keeping his assistants away as a precaution — associate head coach Dwayne Stephens lost his father to COVID-19 in April of last year.

So Izzo, along with a graduate assistant who tested positive before the season, have been handling all the workouts, whether in small groups or with individuals.

“We will only return to practice as a team when they tell us it's safe for our players, and my staff,” Izzo said. “As of right now, there will be no shut down here. I can't even call it a pause. We had to postpone a couple games for the safety and well-being of not only our players but the players on the other team.”

Michigan State (8-4, 2-4 Big Ten) isn’t scheduled to play again until Jan. 28 at Rutgers and hopes that its three postponed games will be rescheduled. As much as the Big Ten will be working to fit all the games in, the timing has been bad for the Spartans.

More: MSU mailbag: Spartans missing NCAA Tournament, once unimaginable, now is possible

The conference built in a pair of “bye” weeks for each team to offer some flexibility in scheduling, expecting there would be postponements. The problem for Michigan State is it is in the middle of its first “bye.” The Spartans have another the final week of the regular season, meaning they could be in for a jam-packed schedule once they get back to action.

“As I told my team today, there's a good chance that we will have to get 14 games in in about a 32- or 33-day period,” Izzo said. “If that is the truth, we'll be playing an NBA schedule. So, even though I hate that, I know the guys love it.

“Would we ever get to the point where we might go to Illinois or they might come here and we play back-to-back games? I don't know. I just know this: I think players want to play, I think coaches want to play, I think the Big Ten wants us to play, I think the media wants us to play, and I think the fans want us to play if everything is as safe as it could be. That’s all I'm looking forward to, playing as many games as we can as safe as we can play them.”

While the Spartans men’s team works through its COVID issues, the Michigan State women's program (8-2, 3-2) also is dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak and has canceled three games in a row, including Monday's scheduled showdown with rival Michigan and Thursday's game against Indiana.


Twitter: @mattcharboneau